Amazing Volcanic Black Sand Beaches

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Generally speaking we like beaches with fine golden sand, or the ultimate accolade, powdery white sand - but there is a further possibility. Admittedly the sound of pristine coarse black sand doesn't have quite the same ring to it but maybe black could become the new white.

Black sand beaches are almost always the result of volcanic activity. Lava flows into the sea where it cools and solidifies almost instantaneously into basalt. This is rapidly broken into sand down by the ocean. In fact it can be so rapid that new black sand beaches can be literally formed overnight after a large lava flow enters the sea.

Because of the nature of these beaches they tend to have dramatic backdrops with otherworldly rock formations created from the twisted lava. Even those that don't often seem to have contrasting vivid green tropical jungle or turquoise ocean to contrast with the charcoal-colored sand.

Given all this, you would think black sand beaches would be quite limited in their locations. However, this is not the case they can be found around the world, including a few less expected locations. Yes they occur in volcanic hotspots such as Hawaii, Iceland and the Canary Islands, but also in Georgia and even Canada.

  • El Bollullo Beach // Spain

    El Bollullo Beach
    ©Tono Balaguer / 123RF

    El Bollullo beach is located on Tenerife's north coast, a world away from the package-tours and resorts the island is often associated with. This small cove has a wild, natural feel right down to the black volcanic sand - there's no sprinkling golden sand imported from the Sahara here like on some of Tenerife's beaches.

    Set in the island's picturesque La Orotava Valley, the journey to El Bollullo involves navigating winding, narrow lanes and a walk through banana plantations. This is a fairly secluded spot, surrounded by high cliffs and… read more »

  • Reynisfjara beach // Iceland

    Reynisfjara beach
    ©Felix Lipov

    Reynisfjara is one of Iceland's most iconic and spectacular beaches. Located around 2 hours from the capital Reykjavik, Reynisfjara is near the village Vik in Myrdalur on Iceland's South Coast. To the southern end of the beach is the 120 meter high promontory of Dyrhólaey, Iceland's most southerly point.

    This black sand beach is a geologist's wet dream with hosts of incredible rock formations and features. Rising up out of the sand are amazing cliffs formed of basalt columns, known as Gardar. These look like some kind of crazy steps… read more »

  • Vestrahorn Beach // Iceland

    Vestrahorn Beach
    ©Ludovic Charlet

    Vestrahorn, on the Stokksnes peninsula is one of those extremes of natural beauty that make Iceland such a fascinating destination. A wide, flat plain of volcanic black sand, backed by the still waters of a lagoon, suddenly rises up to the phenomenal heights of a series of jagged peaks of snow-capped gabbro rock. This is a photographer's paradise and even if you are not familiar with the name you will probably have seen photos of this awe-inspiring location.

    Just beyond the initial set of peaks is the so-called "Batman Mountain"… read more »

  • Playa Jardín // Spain

    Playa Jardín
    ©Gerardo nuñez

    Playa Jardin is a city beach on the western flanks of Puerto de la Cruz on the northern coast of Tenerife. Comprising almost black sand, it was created from scratch in the 1990s so that residents and visitors to the city didn't have to travel too far to soak up the island sun or splash about in the shallows while absorbing the panoramic views of Mount Teide, Spain's highest peak.

    Lined by flowering plants, it consists of a broad sweep of sand roughly 40 metres wide curving gently around the coast.… read more »

  • Black Beach // Canada

    Black Beach

    When we think of black sand beaches we tend to think of tropical islands with jungle-fringed volcanos rising precipitously from the ocean - or at least not Canada. But here we are, in New Brunswick, not far from Lorneville looking at a beach with undeniably black sand.

    The point is not all black sand beaches are volcanic. The imaginatively named Black Beach in NB is actually the result of graphite deposits.

    The beach sits in the sheltered Musquash Estuary, off Fundy Bay. This is a protected area rich in wildlife and with a… read more »

  • Playa Negra // Costa Rica

    Playa Negra
    ©Leonora (Ellie) Enking

    Costa Rica is home to not one, but two beaches named Playa Negra, meaning "Black (sand) beach". Both are fairly well known but are located on opposite coasts. This Play Negra is situated near Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast.

    Black sand may seem the absolute antithesis of a Caribbean beach and this phenomena is quite specific to Playa Negra. Neighboring Cahuita, which is also known as Playa Blanca (White Beach), is everything you would expect - white sand, clear warm water and swaying palms.

    Whilst Playa Negra might not have… read more »

  • Diamond Beach // Iceland

    Diamond Beach
    ©Ludovic Charlet

    Diamond beach on the south coast is one of the most visited beaches in the whole of Iceland. About 6 hours from the capital Reykjavik this black sand beach sits at the mouth of the Jökulsárlón lagoon. Here huge chunks of ice gather from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier which in turn is fed by the largest icecap in Europe - the Vatnajökull.

    Whilst the Jökulsárlón lagoon is dominated by the icebergs drifting towards the coast smaller chunks are deposited on the volcanic sands at its mouth. The local name of… read more »

  • Karekare Beach // New Zealand

    Karekare Beach

    The secluded black sands of Karekare Beach lie surrounded by dramatic cliffs just 35 kilometres from the centre of Auckland on North Island. Immortalised in rock group Crowded House's Together Alone album which was largely recorded nearby, and the Oscar-winning film The Piano in the same year, Karekare beach has been named one of the top 25 beaches in the world.

    Part of Karekare Regional Park, surfers regularly frequent the waves, and swimming is also possible in the area marked out by flags when lifeguards are on patrol. However, a… read more »

  • Piha beach // New Zealand

    Piha beach

    Piha is possibly New Zealand's best known beach and for good reason. Not only is the scenery stunning but this is the birthplace of surfing in New Zealand. In addition, Piha is less than an hour's drive from the centre of Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city.

    Despite being so close to the North Island's main city Piha remains relatively unspoilt. The beach backs onto the rugged and heavily forested coastline of the Waitakere Ranges which is a national park meaning the area hasn't been over-developed.

    The sand along this stretch… read more »

  • Playa de Benijo // Spain

    Playa de Benijo

    Forming a part of Parque Rural de Anaga, Playa de Benijo lies on Tenerife's northern coast close to the island's easternmost point. It runs without break into the neighbouring beach of Playa de Fabin although its widest point sits at the base of the curve of the bay.

    Because of its location within the reserve, Playa de Benijo is one for lovers of nature and narrow mountain roads. Views include those of the Roques de Anaga formations, although to absorb them you'll need to tackle a short, stepped path.

    Playa de… read more »

  • Dyrhólaey // Iceland

    ©Antonio Campoy

    Set around 2.5 hours drive from the capital, Reykjavík, is Dyrhólaey, the southernmost point in mainland Iceland. Previously known as Cape Portland this striking promontory features a huge rock arch. Dyrhólaey translates as "the island with the doorway" and this refers to the rock arch, but this is just one of several weird and wonderful geological formations found along this stretch of coast.

    In the distance are the iconic black basalt sea stacks of the Reynisdrangar which jut straight out of the ocean resembling some ghostly sailing ship. On the western… read more »

  • Muriwai Beach // New Zealand

    Muriwai Beach
    ©JShook / CC BY

    Muriwai Beach is located on the rugged and relatively undeveloped west coast of the region around Auckland. Atmospherically if not physically far from the sights and sounds of New Zealand's biggest city 42 kilometres north west, it offers visitors a wide, flat expanse of volcanic black sand. Part of a chain of continuous beaches running for around 50 kilometres, its name is said to mean ‘water's end'.

    Prevailing offshore breezes attract surfers most days, while you'll often see paragliders hanging effortlessly above the scene on weekends. The Muriwai Surf School can… read more »

  • Playa los Cancajos // Spain

    Playa los Cancajos
    ©Frank Vincentz

    Within two kilometres of both Santa Cruz de La Parma and the international airport on the east coast of the island, Paya los Cancajos has black volcanic sands and calm warm waters thanks to protection from manmade breakwaters.

    Surrounded by a good selection of bars and cafés, the beach is popular with both locals and visitors to La Palma, generating an authentic life's a beach vibe. A good choice for families, beautiful mountain vistas provide a spectacular backdrop for laying down a towel and soaking up the sun, but for most… read more »

  • Playa de las Gaviotas // Spain

    Playa de las Gaviotas
    ©Beneharo Hdez.

    Located among the bare cliff faces of Tenerife's north, Playa de las Gaviotas is a nudist friendly beach with charcoal grey sand on a small curve of coastline. Although just a short distance from Playa de la Teresitas, Gaviotas is altogether a much more relaxed affair.

    Almost disappearing entirely with the waves of high tide, the beach is backed by a sloped retaining wall, which provides places to sit and enjoy the sea views if not stretch out entirely during these times.

    Best reached by private means of transport because of… read more »

  • Playa Roque Bermejo // Spain

    Playa Roque Bermejo

    A small beach on the northeast coast of Tenerife, Playa Roque Bermejo has no direct access by road. However, its black sands and secluded feel still attract a number of beachgoers. The hills that surround Playa Roque Bermejo are also the location of several whitewashed properties.

    Accessible on foot if you have some previous walking experience, an artificial breakwater keeps the shallows calm, while anchoring points allow an even more dramatic arrival by sea. An excellent endpoint to hikes around the island's north-eastern most points, it's possible to both swim and… read more »